My Cultural Diet

Quick reviews of movies, TV shows, books, restaurants, etc., as I enjoy them. My own private Goodreads, Letterboxd, and Yelp all rolled into one (more info here). Ratings are 100% subjective, non-scientific, and subject to change. May contain affiliate links.


Reckless
The first volume of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s ’80s-set noir about a former revolutionary/undercover agent turned washed up and cynical P.I. — which is really the best kind of P.I., right? Now, I’m not saying that I want every graphic novel turned into a streaming title, but if Netflix or Amazon Prime ever turned Reckless into a series, then I’d totally watch it — so long as they capture the early ’80s California vibe, which isn’t merely nostalgic in Brubaker’s storytelling, but vibrant and seedy in equal parts.
Reckless: Destroy All Monsters
I didn’t realize this was the third Reckless volume when I picked it up at the library. That, however, did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of this hard-boiled noir set in L.A. during the ’80s, in which a cinephile P.I. investigates a shady real estate tycoon — with predictably seedy and violent results. I’ve already put holds on all of the other Reckless volumes that I can.
The Sandman, Volume 4: Season of Mists
This feels like the first consistently great Sandman volume, where Gaiman’s writing really hits his stride. The overarching storyline — Morpheus journeys to hell to retrieve a lover whom he condemned there thousands of years ago — plays out in all sorts of fascinating ways, culminating in Lucifer concocting a plan to shut down hell. Lots of fantastic ideas and imagery, and I’m intrigued by how Gaiman weaves his pantheon and theology together (e.g., the relationship between heaven and hell, the purpose of hell, Lucifer’s regrets). While not exactly orthodox, it’s imaginative and thought-provoking nevertheless.
The Sandman, Volume 3: Dream Country
This collection of disconnected stories isn’t the greatest Sandman volume that I’ve read, but it does feature what is often considered one of the best Sandman stories: Neil Gaiman’s spin on Shakespeare’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I also enjoyed “Façade,” in which an immortal superhero (Element Girl) longs for the release of death due to her isolated existence. I don’t know if this was Gaiman’s intent, but it’s a nice deconstruction of superpowers; we think it’d be cool to have them, but we never consider the cost they might have on our soul and sanity.
The Sandman, Volume 2: The Doll's House
I’m still slowly making my way through Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. My favorite story is that of Hob Gadling, a man who thinks death is dumb and as such, simply refuses to die — which makes him an interesting companion for Morpheus, and allow Gaiman to make various comments on human nature and civilization (e.g., the more things change, the more they stay the same). The serial killer convention is goofy and weird and totally comic book-y — and utterly chilling. As for the appearance of G.K. Chesterton, well, that’s just fun.
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The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman
A collection of stories about each of Dream’s Endless siblings (e.g., Death, Desire). Each story is illustrated by a different artist, so they’re all wildly different in tone and atmosphere. Apparently the first comic to ever land on the New York Times Bestseller List. I thought it was OK.
The Sandman, Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes
It’s interesting to read this while watching the first season of Netflix’s Sandman series; the adaptation is pretty faithful and the deviations either take nothing away or actually improve on things. As might be expected, these earliest stories don’t have quite the grace of the later ones, and even include some details that feel like they’re present just to be edgy and shocking. Which are qualities not usually associated with Neil Gaiman.
I was really looking forward to Ron Marz and Ron Lim, who helmed the Silver Surfer comic when I first discovered it back in high school, return to the Sentinel of the Spaceways. Alas, this was a disappointment. Lim’s artwork had lost its mid-’90s edge and the storyline — the Surfer teams up with Thanos to retrieve one of the Infinity Gems — felt like a retread. It might’ve helped if the series had been longer than five issues, as there were some interesting threads in there, but overall, not my favorite Surfer title.
Decorum is more an exercise in world-building than a “normal” comic. The hardcover is filled with notes on far-future worlds, societies, and religions, all brought to life via Mike Huddleston’s incredible artwork and Sasha E Head’s intricate graphic design. The storyline — a group of assassins are hired to find a cosmic relic for an AI religion — is promising, but unfortunately, underwhelming. Given all of the world-building, I kept hoping for something more fantastical.
Works as both a love letter and deconstruction of fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons as well as the fantasy genre as a whole, but only by someone who understands both really well.
I’m a sucker for stories that re-envision the past with magic, which is precisely what Arrowsmith does: it’s World War I with magic, and all that entails (wizards, dragons, trolls). The storyline is fairly straightforward coming-of-age, horrors-of-war stuff, but the artwork is gorgeous and the world building is cool. Apparently, a second volume’s in the works, and I’ll probably check it out at some point.
The survival-at-all-costs story never really grabbed me, and Arielle Jovellanos’ artwork felt underwhelming compared to her other work.
I really liked the first volume of Department of Truth (read my review), and Volume Two keeps with the trippy conspiracy theories, pseudo-histories, and crypto-zoology, as well as some surprisingly emotional moments. Martin Simmonds’ artwork continues to astound.
I liked this volume OK, but more importantly, it got me hyped for volume two.